It’s not me, it’s you. Goodbye, Polar. I’m moving on to Garmin

It’s been a three years since I started using Polar products — I started using the Polar H10 chest strap in 2017 only for bike rides and other outdoor exercise, and then got a Polar A370 watch in 2018 for general fitness tracking (step counting.) This year, with the pandemic and all, I went to town using my Polar gear. Bike rides, running, walking, So so much data collected, and yet, not enough data. Check out the summary report that I pulled from the Polar site below:

Do you know how many feet I climbed with heart-pounding intensity this year? How many fast descents I made? I sure don’t, because phones don’t have barometers to gauge your elevation. Also, while the A370 is a pretty nice fitness tracker, it only has A-GPS (“A” stands for “Assisted”) so you only get GPS location data when the watch is paired to your phone. Let me tell you, this does not work well, if ever.

Are any of these dealbreakers? No, but I’ve been finding them sufficiently irritating that I wanted more. Also this summer, what with all of my riding, I found that while using your phone as a bicycling computer is convenient, you’ll be lucky if your phone has enough battery to get you back home after a long ride.

After much perusing this year (I’m talking months), I decided to make a move to Garmin – their wearables, the bicycling computers, and their ecosystem. Yes, you can use a mix of products from different companies, but there’s a large benefit to using one ecosystem. I wanted any running and biking and high intensity training to be all reflected in the one app. I want unified data, and it has to be available seamlessly. Polar and Garmin are the best two, in my opinion, to offer that. I didn’t want to buy the very old Polar bicycling computer, and I didn’t want to buy the very expensive $500 Polar Vantage running watches either. Sorry, Polar. It’s not me, it’s you.

The first step would be a new watch. While I was torn by multitude of choices, based on my requirements and budget, I went with the Vivoactive 4. I did like the beautiful AMOLED screen on the Venu, but I couldn’t justify buying a $389 fitness watch that you KNOW I’m going to scratch or wreck in some way. The Vivoactive 4 with all of the same features as the Venu (but a transreflective display) at $219 was the right price for me and my budget.

I gotta say that I’m enjoying the Vivoactive 4, despite the screen where black is really not black. The features are good, and it’s accurate. How do I know? For the first two practice runs, I had the Vivoactive 4 on my left wrist, the Polar A370 on my right wrist and paired to my Polar H10 chest strap monitor. I ran on both days, and found the Vivoactive 4 recorded the same heart rate and calories burned as the Polar. Could I run without needing an additional chest strap? Wow.

In addition, the Garmin app is so much better than Polar’s app. Synching between the phone and watch is effortless / seamless without needing any manual intervention. Garmin has also incorporated numerous fitness challenges that you can complete in order to earn badges. For someone like me, who enjoys playing videogames, and earning trophies and other milestones, this is like crack cocaine.

I’m still working on finding other people in the Garmin community to challenge each other. None of my friends or neighbors are on Garmin — they’re all more Apple Watches and Fitbit.

The next phase is the bicycling computer. I haven’t decided between the Garmin Edge 830 or 1030 Plus, but either device will be integrated with Garmin’s app, so I’ll see everything no matter where I am. For example, if I’ve been working out a lot that week, when I fire up the cycling computer, it will know that, show me my workload, and even provide reminders on drinking more water, etc. Love that.

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Where does he get those wonderful toys? I have the Batmobile and the Batwing.

My wife bought me the Lego 1989 Batwing for Christmas. I love that woman.

Considering that I recently put together the 1989 Batman Batmobile, this is an awesome set to own and put on display. There are 2,363 pieces – smaller than the Batmobile set, but still a lot of work. I enjoyed putting this set together overall, but I would say that there was some wonkiness to it. The set uses a lot of long flat boards and pieces, and they had a tendency to warp and detach, requiring pressing again to make 100% contact throughout. Also, I was missing another piece at about 75% completion, but I was able to find an extra piece leftover from the Batmobile set. Still, pretty enjoyable.

I worked on it during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I finished it last night. It’s currently on display in our dining room, but will be on tour (in the house) for the next few months.

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Due to recent events, the Ipes upgraded our physical security controls

Recently, our part of town has been the subject of what appears to be two amateur thieves attempting to break into unlocked cars and at least one house. Thieves trying cars near our neighborhood? Disconcerting, to say the least. These same thieves trying to break into and enter occupied homes on a Friday night? That’s downright scary.

Almost everyone I know started upgrading their home security, and even I thought it was time to take additional precautions. For starters, it was time to upgrade our existing ADT Pulse alarm system to the new Command system. It’s easier to use, and we even have a nice touchscreen panel now.

Next, we thought it would be a smart move to add additional cameras around the house. While a lot of folks are opting for Ring devices or other products (because they may have a Ring doorbell), we’re a Google family, so I looked specifically at the Nest Cam Outdoor cameras.

I was torn between the Nest Cam Outdoor that came out a few years ago vs the newer Next Cam IQ Outdoor, which are nicer. Normally, you know I’d be all over the IQ cameras instead, but we’re talking about getting two HD cameras for the price of one slightly nicer 4K camera. $400 for two cameras or $800 for two cameras? If money was no object, I would have gone with the IQ cameras, but we couldn’t justify double the price for what seems to be slightly better resolution. I also read through a number of reviews, but I could not find definitive evidence that the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor cameras could justify the exorbitant cost.

I bought a dual set of Next Cam Outdoor cameras for the driveway and backyard from Lowes. I had planned to install them myself, but we had one of our electricians over for other work, and I said why don’t you just install them for me? Good idea, because he got it done in about 2 hours, while I attended about 52 video calls that day.

Once installed, you have to configure them via the Nest app. I set up Activity Zones that kinda work, but the alerts are good. Any motion in the defined activity zones gets picked up. I also opted for the Nest Aware Plus subscription that gives us 60 days of event video history + 10 days of 24/7 video history. The subscription applies to all of your Nest devices for cameras, so that enhances what we already have (e.g. Nest Hello doorbell, Nest Hub Max, other Nest indoor cameras.)

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The Batmobile is done, and I’m ready to ride to Gotham’s rescue

We finished the Batmobile! I ended up completing most of it, and the kids jumped at times to help. Surprisingly, we were missing one small piece, but a friend/neighbor had an extra piece from prior Lego projects, and he came to my rescue.

Overall, it was fun. This was the most complicated set I’ve ever done – 3300 pieces. The best strategy I came up with was:

  1. to open each bag (loose pieces and 1-2 smaller bags with more pieces), but keep them in separate piles. This way it was easier to find the different types of pieces you need.
  2. For each step, find all of the pieces that you need to complete that particular step. All of them. Work on those. Complete that step.
  3. Only then, move onto the next step.

If you do this, then you reduce the risk of using the wrong pieces, or forgetting something.

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Outdoor Christmas decorations and new landscape lighting

Last weekend, it took a family effort to decorate the exterior for Christmas. But, we did it! Okay, we skipped the lawn decorations this year, but we can live without them.

Some news – earlier this month, I had one of our electricians come out to finally install an additional GFI outdoor outlet box. This has been a long time coming, as I’ve needed that so I could run an another line of low-voltage landscape along the house and towards the garage.

Working quickly, Josh assembled the light fixtures, and I installed them along the walkway. I put in 4 spotlights to light up the house, and 3 pathway lights for the walkway. I think it looks good.

Next year, if we decide to keep the large pine tree, I may extend one of our existing low-voltage lines and light that up too. But I’d prefer to remove it. We’ll see. When the snow melts, I am considering adding a few more focused spotlights to light up parts of the roofline. When it’s warmer!

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Garage clean-up and reorganization project continues

Do I talk about the garage a lot? Too much? If I do, I apologize. It’s been a large project for me that I took on. I’ve been progressing with it slowly, due to finite time and resources. I’m either making progress in leaps and stages, or sometimes only incremental changes. The biggest updates have been the two sections of Gladiator GearWall that we’ve been installing.

Last year, we put up a large section of GearWall near the commercial freezer. See first picture below, far corner. There are 6 of these 8′ GearWall panels mounted in into the studs. That section is primarily for storing the ladder, power tools. and extension cords. For a time, I stored my bike there. 

This month, we worked on the next phase for organizing the leisure stuff. The kids have been helping me install a 2nd Gladiator GearWall section along the back wall. First, we had to remove and relocate two GearTrack panels that we installed last summer, and I used them to support additional GearLoft shelving (each hold up to 100 lbs.) See 2nd photo, corner.

The 2nd section of GearWall for leisure stuff is composed of eight 8′ GearWall panels. Once up, it’s a best effort to figure out what should go where, so you have to think about what needs to be easily accessible, and what isn’t used frequently. You also have to employ any Tetris skills that you still retain from your childhood. I threw a lot up on there, and it’s neat to have the 3 bikes (and gear) hung up and out of the way. I managed to hang all of our lawn and beach chairs, beach toys, towels, and even coolers.

You’ll notice there’s any empty spot under my road bike in the picture above. That’s for my future hybrid bike.  🙂

That leaves me to two remaining garage projects for 2021.

  1. I’m still working how to fill up the tools section, but that will happen when I start emptying out the basement. 
  2. I have a few spots on the wall (and GearTrack) to better organize gardening and landscaping stuff, power washing detergents, and gasoline. I can work on that in Jan/Feb.

I’m in the home stretch, I think. I have to say it’s been so nice to be able to go into the garage and find exactly what we need without the digging around. The basement is the next big project to tackle in Feb/March, so I want this garage project complete in it’s entirety by then.

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9th month of the pandemic and the end of my cycling season – 153.1 miles biking and running in November

Folks, that’s a wrap on the 2020 cycling season. While I will continue to hit the gym in December, I hung up the bike for the year.

In November, I mostly ran at the gym, but I was able to squeeze in the final 6 solo / group rides in November, for a total of 126 road miles. It’s too cold, people. And I’m not a cold-weather person. I like my riding days warm and sunny.

On Saturday Nov 28 (Thanksgiving weekend), the guys and I made our last ride of the year, a final 27 mile ride. After, we went to the Old Hights Brewing Company in town for a celebratory drink.

Bearing in mind, how did I do this year? Since January (including that wacky unseasonably warm day and I went riding in the middle of winter for the first time in my life), I have walked / ran / biked over 2500 miles. Remember, my annual goal was usually 500 miles.

The year isn’t over yet, so I hope to break 2250 before New Year’s Eve.


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Our Lego project for 2020 – the 1989 Batmobile

I may be in my mid-40s but I still love Legos. The kids and I have worked on Lego projects on and off for a few years. Our last Lego set was Voltron in 2018. For some reason, we skipped last year. With the pandemic raging, I thought it would be fun to work on a project for the holiday season.

I’ve had my eye on a large Lego project, but which one to buy using our finite pool of money? I wanted something big, visually interesting, and a little challenging. I had in mind the 1989 Batmobile, because I have loved it since I was 13 years old. I also strongly considered the Tantive IV, a Star Destroyer, or the Bugatti Chiron. I kept an open mind. I was worried that the 1989 Batmobile would be discontinued and hard to find like the Lego Tumbler set from a few years ago. I’m still kicking myself over waiting too long.

Luke suggested today let’s decide when we get to the store. We walked in and looked around. After perusing the options, I walked up and stared at the Batmobile. It took about 5-6 seconds, and I knew it was the one.

This is gonna be awesome. I’m looking forward to it.

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Our new Lutron Serena shades are here, installed, and awesome

After waiting 2 years (Dec 2018 – Feb 2020) for us to paint the house interior, 7 months (February – September) to research best options for blinds and save up the money, and 6 weeks for delivery & install, our family room shades are here.

It sounds like a long journey, and it was. We started looking at new blinds soon after installed custom blinds for the Lounge, but we struggled to find a solution for the family room. We had four windows, and two were high up. I wanted something automated and smart, but pricing was insane. Also, we didn’t know what color we would be painting the house. Much thinking and waiting and researching and saving. The major contenders were products from Somfy and Lutron. There are pros and cons for all products.

Our regular Budget Blinds team only handled Somfy so I looked into it first. Quite simply, you can use many different manually controlled shades, and you add the Somfy motor to pull the chain, so to speak. The pro is that you can use products from many companies so you have a lot of choices. The con is that the motors aren’t particularly quiet, and I’d need another bridge and system in the house to control 4 windows.

The other major company I liked was Lutron. We already use 20+ Lutron switches riding on one bridge and app. While you have fewer choices available, I find it was a simpler solution. They’re also near-silent. The argument to be made is that Lutron is an automation company first, and window treatments company second. Still, it was with a shot. I liked the simplicity and quietness of their products.

Our regular Budget Blinds team didn’t over Lutron, so they got me in touch with another franchise in Freehold. He came over in Feb, and we looked at the products — see and listen to a demo model operate, and check out the options. We wanted to find a nice roller shade that offered some transparency as we had a nice backyard.

We liked the product, but it does cost a lot. You’re looking at least $700 per window, so be prepared for the sticker shock. We held off on purchasing until we got the house painted, and saved up the money. By Sept, I knew it was time to order so we could have them delivered & installed before Thanksgiving. Interesting enough, we ended up changing our original selection once we looked at it with the new paint color up.

The install was fairly easy, except for some minor initial programming issues. They’re all set up now, with scenes and schedules configured in the Lutron app. They look good, have the right level of transparency, and are super quiet.

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Our latest room renovation project – the home office

In February, we decided to renovate the home office. This has been a long time coming. In 2016 (two years after we moved in), we invested by installing recessed lights in the office. That was a huge improvement, because all we had in there was a tall floor lamp.

The last night before gutting and painting

Other than that, we hadn’t done much in the room. Honestly, we had higher priorities in the rest of the house. Year after year, looking at that stained raggedy 1998 carpet, the green paint, the old shades, I really had enough. Now that we had the main areas updated with a new color scheme and lighting, we could focus on the home office. We had no idea the pandemic would radically alter our working arrangements, so the timing worked out well.

In February, we completely emptied out the office. We had Worldwide Flooring come in to rip out the old carpet and put down the new engineered wood flooring. We decided to use the same flooring as what we had selected for the Lounge in 2017. I do love that flooring. I don’t know if we’ll use it in the rest of the main floor (probably not), but the home office is a contained space.

Soon after the flooring was installed, I had our painters come into paint the walls and ceiling. We took a long time to agree on a color scheme and paint color. Go dark, go light, go green, go blue, go grey… it was crazy. Ultimately, after weeks of visiting websites and gathering paint color cards, and renting out an arena for a cage-fighting match (she won because she fights dirty), we agreed to go with the same blue we used in our master bedroom. I like that blue a lot, so why not use it again?

The office with old layout, brand new blinds

Since February, I kept the same layout, and didn’t hang up any paintings or wall decor. Couldn’t decide on ultimate layout, so I was in analysis paralysis mode. Sometime in October, I decided to switch things around, move the desk around, and that started a cascade of ideas for us. I hung up our various diplomas, certificates, and awards. We put up some wall decor. We ordered a colorful abstract canvas print, and some cycling themed prints from the UK. We ordered and installed new blinds, and hung up the prior shelving.

In terms of tech gear, I bought new Logi 2.1 speakers, as the old Logitech 5.1 system was getting flaky and overkill for what I needed. There’s no need for 5.1 speakers in my day-to-day. I used to play more PC games that offered 5.1, but now I only play on the PS4 when I have time. I also replaced my getting-flaky Logitech MX mouse with a brand new MX Master 3.

We also got some furniture. We picked out a new armless couch with small footprint from Target. Looking through all these office design sites, I thought it would smart to set up a seating area. I kinda want a footstool or ottoman, so that’s TBD.

Cooper’s Office Furniture

My old Staples office chair armrests were wearing out (i.e. ripped), so after much debating and research, I read about these office furniture warehouses that obtain commercial office furniture from companies shutting down their offices locations.

I found an office furniture warehouse out called Cooper’s Office Furniture in Flemington NJ. One afternoon, I drove out there, and picked up a a “new-to-me” Steelcase Leap v2 office chair for under $400. Works great, very comfortable. The place looked sketchy on the outside, but it was a large warehouse with furniture all over the place.

Last week, I got an old dusty docking station working, and now I’ve been able to get my laptop to work with all dual 24″ monitors and Logitech peripherals — keyboard, mouse, and my C920 1080p webcam. My trusty Dell Ultrasharp 24″ monitors unfortunately don’t support HDMI or DisplayPort, so I bought DVI-DisplayPort adapters to plug into the docking station. I’m still trying to get a brand new docking station approved. For now, huzzah!

Ready to see the home office in its near final form?

The home office is almost done. I’m still planning to get a tall plant for the window area, and a table (from IKEA?) for projects (and an articulating table lamp), and maybe some more wall shelves to store books and little decorative items. I’ll try to get this done early next year. So far, I gotta say the place is looking brilliant.

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